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Strawberry and Mascarpone Towers

From Italian Cooking and Living, February/March 2001

Better than strawberry shortcake, these architectural wonders make the most of store-bought puff pastry and a creamy, mild, spreadable cheese called mascarpone. We strongly urge you to buy imported Italian mascarpone rather than the domestic product: the flavor will be better, and the cheese will not curdle once it is whisked with rum and sugar (the domestic product often curdles when it is combined with liqueur).

Advance preparation: The puff pastry can be baked and the filling and garnish can be prepared up to 12 hours ahead; the puff pastry should be held at room temperature, and the filling and garnish refrigerated until needed for layering. Layer the ingredients no more than 2 hours ahead of serving in order for the puff pastry to remain crisp. Decorating tip: A fanned strawberry makes a pretty garnish.

For the puff pastry:
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter for greasing the baking sheet
  • 1/4 cup blanched almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 pound frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • flour for the counter
For the filling and garnish:
  • 2 pints strawberries
  • 1 pound mascarpone (preferably imported Italian)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • 6 mint sprigs
For the glaze (optional):
  • 1 cup strawberry jam
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Make the puff pastry: Preheat the oven to 425. Butter a baking sheet. Grind the almonds in a food processor with the allspice and sugar until fine, not until powdery. Set aside in a bowl. Roll out the puff pastry until it is 1/12" thick on a lightly floured counter. Cut into even rectangles, then into 12 4" squares. If necessary, gather scraps and roll out again. Place the squares on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the squares with the almond mixture, and prick with a fork. Bake 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Cool on a rack. Meanwhile, make the filling: Rinse the strawberries, then hull and quarter all but 6 of them. Place in a bowl. In another bowl, beat the mascarpone, sugar, and rum with a wire whisk.

Make the glaze: Heat the jam with 1/4 cup of water and the lemon juice in a small pot over medium heat for 5 minutes. Place in a squeeze bottle and cool to room temperature. Layer the towers: Cut all the puff pastry squares in half horizontally. Place the base of one square on a plate. Top with 1 tablespoon of the mascarpone and a handful of the quartered strawberries. Cover with another base, and top with more of the mascarpone and strawberries. Finish with the top of a puff pastry square. Repeat with the remaining puff pastry squares (you will have 6 tops left; they make a nice snack), mascarpone (reserving a little for the garnish), and quartered strawberries. To garnish, spoon dollops of the reserved mascarpone over the towers. Top with the whole strawberries and decorate with the mint sprigs. Pipe dollops of the glaze around the towers, and serve within 2 hours. Serves 6

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